Iran: civil society urgently calls for accountability and respect for women’s rights

The death of Mahsa Amini while in custody after she was arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s strict rules on  women’s dress code and the massive arrests of protesters require urgent accountability by the government and end to violence against women and women human rights defenders, global civil society organisation, CIVICUS said today.  

Mahsa was arrested by Iran’s morality police on 13 September and accused of improperly wearing the hijab. She was physically assaulted during her arrest and detained at Vozara detention centre. She fell into a coma at the detention centre as a result of the ill treatment and torture at the hands of the morality police and later died in hospital on 16 September.  Mahsa’s death is symptomatic of the culture of violence against women and those who defend women’s rights in Iran. 

Thousands of protesters have responded to her death by taking to the streets from Tehran to Isfahan, Saqez and many other cities calling for accountability and an end to violence and discrimination againt women. The Iranian authorities have responded with disproportionate force and violence  and at least 54 people have been killed since the recent protests started on 16 September  and hundreds  injured. In addition more than 739 people (including at least 60 women) have been arrested by security forces and many more arrests are expected as the protests continue. To further stifle freedom of expression and the circulation of images from the protests, the authorities have shut down the internet in several provinces.  

The killing of 22 year old Mahsa Amini is a brutal reminder about the high levels of violence, discrimination and attacks against women in Iran.  Many women are attacked on a regular basis in Iran, women human rights defenders and lawyers who defend them are also targeted, unjustly prosecuted and handed lengthy jail terms without any legal basis," said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead at CIVICUS. 

Over the years, the Iranian authorities have used restrictive laws and policies including discriminatory compulsory veiling laws, laws relating to the sanctity and religion and legislation on propaganda against the State to target women and women human rights defenders who advocate against forced veiling and defend the rights of other women. 

The authorities use violence, arbitrary arrests and lengthy sentences against those perceived guilty of violating these laws. Prominent human rights defender, Nasrin Sotoudeh is currently serving a 33 year prison sentence in Qarchak prison for legally defending women arrested for appearing in public without a hijab. Her health has deteriorated significantly as she suffers from acute health issues.  Before her latest sentencing in 2019, she had been in and out of prison since 2010.  

In April 2019, the Iranian authorities arrested three women activists after verifying videos they posted online without wearing a hijab. The women, Yasaman Aryani, her mother Monireh Arabshahi and Mojgan Keshavarz were sentenced to sixteen years and twenty three years in prison respectively by branch 28 of Tehran’s revolutionary court. The targeting of women and women human rights defenders is exacerbated by a culture of impunity often enjoyed by perpetrators and the absence of a system of accountability for human rights violations.  

We call on the Iranian authorities to;

Urgently conduct an impartial investigation into the death of Mahsa Amini and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.

Review and repeal all discriminatory compulsory  veilinglaws and release all women human rights defenders in detention and lift the sentences against them.

Release all those arrested during the ongoing protests, drop all charges against them and create an enabling environment for the respect of freedom of assembly and association.  

 Civic space in Iran is rated as "Closed" by the CIVICUS Monitor